Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #449
11 Homebrew Terrain Ideas
This Week's Tips Summarized
11 Homebrew Terrain Ideas
- Cardstock 3D Minis and Paper Modeling
- Household Objects
- Cardstock Terrain
- Hobby Shop Terrain
- Paper Models
- Wargames Terrain Book
- Wooden Blocks
- Three Floor Model
- Building Materials and Sets
- More Cardstock Terrain
Johnn Four's GM Guide Books
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A Brief Word From Hannah
Midgard Viking RPG
For once, I get to be a player: I convinced a friend to run
a game of Midgard, and we just had our first session.
Midgard is a great RPG that I first heard about a while back
from the Free RPG Blog.
You play the role of a Viking, looting and pillaging and
fighting off dark elves and zombies, or svartalfar and
haugbui in Norse terms. Character creation is similar to the
usual, with stats (god runes), skills, and special abilities
(rune gifts), but it has quite a few unique bits. For
example, the god rune Heimdall represents both charisma and
Characters health is measured in Wounds, which is a slightly
unusual system that's growing on me. Reserves of power are
measured with Wyrd, which characters can regenerate by doing
unsafe things, such as charging headlong at an enemy or
sailing a ship through a storm. It's an interesting
personality mechanic, and I've yet to see just how it will
play out over the long term.
Combat is unintuitive for anyone used to just about any
other system, but once our group picked it up, we really
liked it. Characters with a higher weapon skill get more
actions per round, but the timing of these actions is
determined by initiative, which is influenced by what you're
doing. A character in chain armor swinging a giant axe is
going to move a lot slower than one in leather with a
dagger, but the former might still end up taking more
actions than the latter if their skill is higher.
The really cool bit for me is the resolution mechanic.
Rather than rolling one d20, or a pool of other dice and
adding them up or counting successes, you cast runes. This
involves rolling a bunch of d8s, but each number means
something. A 1 is a rune that bodes ill for you, while a 3
is a rune related to the past, a 4 is a rune related to the
future, and so on. It looks complicated at first, but after
a few practice casts I could read the dice almost as
speedily as I can read a normal d20 roll.
We have a party of three, which includes my berserker, a
hunter who specializes in archery, and a fateweaver who does
some divining on the side. Both myself and the archer have
low Heimdall, which means the trickster-ish fateweaver is
the party's face, not to mention having more health than the
other two of us put together. We glass cannons can still
demolish half a dozen enemies in one round, though, so it's
a working partnership.
We all independently chose Odin as our highest god rune.
It's the rune for magic, and also for being scary as all get
out, so we're a pretty intimidating party. Optimization-
wise, it looks like Odin would be the best choice for a
"dump stat," so we'll see how well our builds work out for
us in the long run. I think my berserker could take a Tyr-
based warrior on any day, but time will tell.
My favourite thing about this system: You can say "I block
the battleaxe with my face" and have it be the right choice.
I recommend printing out the separate "cast stone" sheet,
as it makes rune casting much faster.
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Game Industry Gathers on Open Design Podcast
Industry luminaries Monte Cook, Jeff Grubb, and Skip
Williams talk about world building and the joys of
collaborative design with the hosts of the new Open Design
Open Design patron Brandon Hodge gave his perspective on
patronage, his contributions to the development on Halls of
the Mountain King, and what he's learned about game design.
And RPG Superstar Clinton J. Boomer talks about how to
design a lively monster.
Plus a great contest giveaway: don't miss it!
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11 Homebrew Terrain Ideas
In Issue #432 I put out a request for homebrew terrain for
my personal campaign. Without a large budget, I wanted to
add a new dimension to the tabletop. That's still a work in
progress for my game.
In the meantime, though, here are several of the tips and
ideas everyone sent in. If you are thinking about building
3D props and minis terrain, I thought you might find a tip
or three here of use.
1. Cardstock 3D Minis and Paper Modeling
From: John Gallagher
For 3-D miniatures props for your game, I'd recommend
There are a few Google and Yahoo groups that specialize in
very inexpensive modeling using cardstock. The members there
can direct you to a number of sites that sell models of
virtually anything you can imagine. Even better, many of the
members also design their own models, which they post to the
groups as free downloads. The quality, even of these free
models, is usually pretty good, often very good, and
sometimes even stunning.
So you can get an idea of how good these can look, check out
this site's photo gallery. I built this wild west town when
I was planning a Deadlands campaign.
When I ordered it, I received a computer CD in the mail. I
simply print off as many of each building as I want.
Here's a few of those groups:
The members are friendly and very helpful, and like gamers,
they are interested in promoting their hobby. They are
mostly familiar with gaming, as many do modeling as a
support for their games.
For my money, you can't beat this concept. It's inexpensive
(often free), fun, easily accessible, and has support groups
who are only too ready to help you out.
If you go to the www.erichotz.com homepage and click on
downloads, one of the PDFs you can download there is a
free sample building from his product line. It can give you
an idea if paper modeling is a route you want to look into.
Once you get used to doing it, putting together a building
like this goes really fast. I can do two in an evening while
watching TV. And all I need are four things: cardstock to
print on, an Exacto knife, a cutting board and some Elmer's
glue. Show me a miniature painter who can match that!
To be fair, I also have a drafting table, a lighted
magnifying glass on an extendable arm, surgical scalpels, a
couple of packs of the clamp-style paper clips, and a few
other odds and ends. But all you need are those four items
above. The rest is gravy.
Here's a kind of a primer on paper modeling:
Print the models on cardstock. Remember, the thicker the
stock, the sturdier the model will be, but the harder it
will be to work with while you're building it. It's a trade
off. You'll want to use between about 65# and 100# stock,
100# being the heaviest stock I'd try working with.
Some people who expect their models to take abuse (like
gamers) do very rough cuts of corrugated cardboard or balsa
wood to line the interiors of the buildings.
You can use scissors to cut out the models. If you do, I'd
recommend sharp scissors that come to a fine point at the
end, like the scissors in a manicure kit. Even better is an
Exacto knife with a pointed tip. That's the most economical
blade most people have access to. Some people use scalpels,
but they're pricey. A straight edge is enormously helpful in
cutting out walls, and the best straight edge is a steel
ruler. I got mine on sale three for a dollar at an office
All paper models use tabs to glue sections together. Don't
bother doing fine cuts on the tabs. Rough cuts are fine,
unless they're going to be attached to something small. I
usually use scissors to cut the tabs, to save the blades on
Score the tabs and fold them as soon as you cut them. Don't
wait till your walls are up and then realize you didn't fold
the tabs for the roof.
A lot of vendors will tell you to use a butter knife or
something else to score the fold lines on your model. I
don't bother having the extra tool lying there. I use the
back of my cutting knife, being careful not to press too
Even using the back of the knife, the tip is probably sharp
enough to cut the cardstock partway through. You don't want
to do that; it will weaken the joint. You just want to
indent the fold line so it's easier to bend in a straight
Here's a tip that will save you lots of time. Save some of
your cardstock scraps. Before you make your first cut,
drizzle white school glue down on a good size scrap. This
glue takes a good while to dry, and you can waste a lot of
time just sitting there holding the joints together until
they're sturdy enough to sit on their own. Let the glue
start drying on the scraps while you're cutting. Then apply
it to the tabs with a toothpick.
This will keep it from running onto the printed portions and
smearing the ink, and cut down on your holding time. If you
want to push this a step further, don't drizzle the glue in
a big pool, but in lines back and forth on the scrap. It
will dry even faster.
And speaking of holding time, office supply stores carry
another very inexpensive product that can help you out:
clamp-style paper clips. I use these little gems to hold my
joints together until they dry so I can keep on cutting. At
least most of the time.
The exception is the last joint that closes the four walls
of a building. Up until you glue that last joint, your model
can be laid out flat, and the clamps will take care of
holding it together. But that last joint can't be clamped
that way, because you'll have to fold it over on itself for
the clamps to hold it.
That can cause you problems, because if the glue seeps out
from under the tab, you could end up gluing the corner to
itself. By this time, however, the glue you put on that
scrap is fairly dry, and you won't have to hold this last
joint too terribly long.
Lastly, roofs are always going to give you grief. Your walls
are already together, and in most models, there are all
these lovely long tabs running along the top of each wall.
The best tip I can give you here is, not all tabs need to be
folded at 90 degrees.
I fold these tabs normally, then unfold them again to about
135 degrees, halfway between flat and a right angle. I apply
the glue pretty liberally here, but by now my glue reservoir
is dry enough so it shouldn't run down onto the exterior of
the model when it's applied. Then I press the roof in place
and let the roof push those tabs back into the right
That way I can be pretty sure the tabs are contacting the
roof and will stick to it. Then I flip the model upside down
and use the tip of my knife to gently press the tabs up into
The toothpicks you use to apply glue are going to get gunked
up with dried glue. You really can't avoid it. Wipe them
between uses, do whatever you want; it's gonna happen. Toss
'em. Get a new one.
The same thing can be said for your knife blades. The blade
will dull with use, and that will make it harder to cut.
A few tips about this. Use new blades to make fine cuts. Use
older blades to make long straight cuts. The tips will dull
first, but the rest of the blade will probably remain pretty
Keep those blades around for a while, too. They're useful
for cutting extra tabs, whittling glue off the end of
toothpicks, etc. Just be sure you don't get the new blades
mixed up with the "starting to dull" blades or the "utility"
And remember, the fastest way to ruin a model is to use a
dull blade to cut it. Your edges will be pressed down from
the amount of pressure you had to exert to cut the
cardstock, and they'll look terrible.
You can find models for just about anything if you look hard
enough. Gamers likely will be most interested in buildings
and terrain, but it's easy to find planes, cars, boats, etc.
I once downloaded and built a (free!) horse-drawn hearse
that was a nightmare of tiny little parts. The designer's
build of it was unbelievable, though.
Which brings me to my very last tip. When you find a free
model online, and you download it, make a second document
and download the photos too. Sometimes it helps to know what
the finished model is supposed to look like. And while
you're at it, put the website address in with the photos, or
in its own document, so you can pass it along to friends.
You can use advanced print options that allow you to set the
print quality or to print in grayscale.
I generally drop my print quality to mid grade. It cuts way
back on the amount of ink used, without a huge drop in
quality. An added benefit is the ink dries faster, without
smudging or curling the pages, which can happen when you're
doing photo quality printing on regular paper or cardstock.
If you're really married to the highest quality setting,
don't let your printed pages build up in the printer tray.
Take them out as they finish and put them on a flat surface
till the ink dries; say, five minutes.
The lowest quality print setting on my printer tends to make
everything look washed out, so I don't use it.
Also, I refill my own ink cartridges. There are a couple
vendors who supply ink. You can also order reconditioned
cartridges from Overstock dot Com.
Paper Modeling Groups
Here are links to some groups devoted to paper modeling. The
members do a lot to promote their hobby and are very willing
to help with problems, answer questions (especially about
where to find specific models) and offer tips. Many of them
design their own models and make them available to the
groups free of charge.
Be sure to check the links sections of each group, and read
the posts. The members will usually post a website address
immediately whenever they find a new model somewhere,
especially if it's free. In no time you'll wind up with more
possibilities than you can ever hope to use.
- The Brabantini Mailing List
A mailing list to provide card templates for figures, vehicles and buildings to be used in your wargames.
- The Fantasy Card Model Archive
A mailing list to provide card templates to be used in Fantasy wargames, such as GW's WFB and LOTR.
- The Historical Card Model Archive
A mailing list to provide card templates to be used in historical wargames.
- Models & Miniatures in Paper
A group where members
submit original paper miniature and model creations centered
around an agreed upon theme.
- Paper Models
group founded to share free paper model
plans. The wiki site also includes a free model
- Whitewash City Wild West PDF Buildings
This is a support group for the Whitewash City line of wild
west card models, which I purchased. I can tell you, the
line is top notch. And little add-ons can change the entire
look of the town; turn it into a ghost town, for instance.
- Papermodels II
Members are encouraged to share their original model
designs, links to favorite model sites, or just to talk
about the hobby:
- Papercraft Modeling
A blog publishing free models.
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2. Household Objects
Terrain can be fun and easy to make. Using things found
around the house and/or a few supplies from your local craft
store, there are a lot of little things you can make to
spruce up your D&D battlemats.
Many of your new or old purchases of appliances might have
come with the perfect material for making hills, stairs, or
altars: polystyrene packing (Styrofoam). Cut it and stack
it, then using a knife or a pen mark it with the squares to
aide with moving figures.
- You can mix up some white glue and dirt to use as a texture
for your new terrain, even using rocks in the mix for
heavier terrain. Then slap on a little paint for looks and
you are good to go.
- Fences can easily be made by taking a large tongue depressor
and modifying it.
Rock wall: Use white glue and some relatively flat rocks
from your backyard. Just stack the rocks on the tongue
depressor as high as you want your wall, and fill in between
the rock with glue to make it look like mortar. Then paint
it shades of grey. Paint the depressor a grassy color. You
can also use static glass from a craft store for a neat
Wooden fence: Use twigs from your backyard and wood glue.
Line up and glue the twigs in the H-shaped fence look, then
glue to the tongue depressor base. Paint the fence if you
want. Decorate the depressor like the rock wall and you are
good to go.
- Wire fence: Use twigs and wire or string painted silver.
- Trees and plants are easy to make out of a little wire,
some old silk plants, and some floral tape.
Start with a twig and wrap wire around the twig, coming off
the bottom for roots and off the top for branches. Tape or
glue old silk plant leaves on the ends of the top for a live
tree. Then wrap the wires with brown floral tape to make
bark. The tree should stand on its own, but if it doesn't,
glue it to cardboard and decorate the base. You can use this
method to make bushes too; just make them much shorter.
- To make a cactus, find a Styrofoam ball and cut it into a
cactus shape. Using toothpick ends or small bits of wire,
stab and glue pointy bits all over the Styrofoam. Paint the
Styrofoam green and the pointy bits white.
- Houses and other buildings can be made easily out of an
old cereal box. First cut the box open so it lies flat. Then
draw the four walls of a house and a roof on the box. Draw
in a foldable lip to the sides for glue and extra support,
if you want. Remember to use a ruler for good edge
connections. Then cut out the parts and use tape or glue to
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3. Cardstock Terrain
From: Bill Webb
Johnn, I have been researching the same topic, and come up
with a few alternatives.
- Cardstock dungeons in PDF form. After buying the download
or CD, you get PDF files you can print in color or black and
white. Some of the best products I have seen are:
- Outdoor terrain features are also available in cardstock
- Cardstock buildings - also available in JPG or PDF files.
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4. Hobby Shop Terrain
From: Laura www.witchesclosetcreations.com
I love making terrain for my model horses!
Model railroad supplies are usually available at hobby
shops. A bit of plywood, or Styrofoam for a base, some
newspaper to make hills, and plastercloth to cover it all.
It's messy, but fun.
There are tree forms, foliage foam to shape your trees, moss
to make bushes with, different shades of grass and gravel or
dirt to glue on, even stuff to make water effects and rivers
and such. And, of course, instructions to make it come out
For buildings, bridges, and fences check out this site -it's
to die for!
One hint: Make sure your terrain is flat enough for your
minis to stand on.
Another hint: When your plaster cloth is all dry and you are
ready to paint it, a nice can of spray-paint as a base helps
to seal it and provides a nice base color for your grass,
One more hint: If you can get it, HydroCal is a better
medium than plaster for use with Hirst molds. HydroCal is
usually available at hardware stores - it's an ingredient in
cement, I believe. Anyway, it's white, and mixes like
plaster, but is very durable. You can also get it at the
railroad hobby shops, but it's a lot more pricey in their
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5. Paper Models
From: Lord Skudley
In response to your desire to create your own terrain I
offer you these websites.
A great site for custom making your own stuff from the
Matakishi's Tea House
More paper models than you'll know what to do with:
Buildings and Structures Free Paper Modelsl
Paper buildings from the Disney Haunted Mansions:
Some Random Disney stuff:
The Disney Experience Paper Models
Some great looking paper models from Warhammer (scroll down
to Cardstock Constructions):
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6. Wargames Terrain Book
From: James Seals
Games Workshop sell a book entitled "How to Make Wargames
Terrain" that has useful articles about making buildings and
the like. I find it helpful for making affordable,
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7. Wooden Blocks
From: Bill Hein
Invest $20 in two $10 sets of blocks at WalMart. Nothing
fancy, just the wood blocks we played with as toddlers. This
gives you walls, arches for doors, cylinders for columns,
You can combine them with the dungeon tiles from WotC -the
blocks make the walls, while the tiles are pretty enough to
evoke mood. I thought about painting them darker colors, but
passed; when they're bright, it's obvious from across the
table where the wall is.
If you can find the old WizKids Dungeon Tiles for Mage
Knight, they're useful too. I bough mine a long time ago on
clearance, but I still stumble across the stuff at rummage
sales and flea markets.
Aquarium terrain is good stuff, too. I don't much like the
standard prices, but used stuff on eBay, garage sales, or
flea markets works well.
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8. Three Floor Model
From: Darryl Hodgson
I use a sheet of clear plastic cut into four equal sized
sheets (12" x 18") and place them like floors of a building
on clear plastic cups. I then place paper on the levels with
rooms, doors, elevators and stairs. This worked great for a
game that recreated the story from Resident Evil.
I used three of them another time in a Serenity game for
ships moving over a planet. One level was close to the
ground where you could shoot at each other. Another was high
in the sky where enemies could watch you or try and shoot
down on you. And the third was in orbit, allowing for just
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9. Building Materials and Sets
From: Matt Vincent
Here are some building materials I've frequently used for 3-
- Legos, Mega Bloks and Best-Locks.
- Modeling Clay: I use this most of all. A single, large,
gray brick from a craft store can do just about anything,
and doesn't dry out easily. Also, a small blob of clay
on the bottom of miniatures can affix them to uneven or
- Styrofoam: note that many paints, especially spray
paints, will melt Styrofoam.
- Wooden blocks.
- Plasticard: free from real estate signs littered near
- Asian placemat cut up with scissors and used as
ladders/rope bridges. Example
* Paper is an especially popular method for making
attractive 3-D terrain. Some products for this are
Frequently used terrain sets I like to have on hand:
- Ship: Any Mega Bloks pirate ship or the Pirateology Model
- Graveyard: Halloween diorama models
- Inn: Dwarven Forge or WorldWorks
- Forest: Woodland Scenics or Christmas model
- Castle Walls: Mage Knight castles or WotC
- Village: Paper model houses, and leave them
folded for easy storage.
- Bridge: Various stone bridges can easily be found, but a
rope bridge made from an Asian placemat can be more
dramatic. I made mine 1 inch wide, and marked off 1 inch
increments with a black marker.
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From: Mike Kenyon
Check out www.dungeoneering.net
Brian Rollins runs it, and he makes PDFs of all sorts of
terrain for fantasy, sci-fi and urban settings. I recommend
checking it out!
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11. More Cardstock Terrain
From: Steve B.
In response to your coverage of gaming terrain, here are a
few links for cardstock model PDFs. I prefer cardstock
models since they're economical, foldable, lightweight,
replaceable, customizable, and are visually nice. Many of
these sites have free demos or samples worth downloading.
I've purchased from all of these publishers and have been
quite happy with their products.
My favorite for a high quality range of props and terrain
including good coverage for science fiction and modern
gaming. Their models are also great for kitbashing with
graphics application such as Photoshop to create unique
props - many can be seen in their user gallery.
Has nice fantasy and science fiction sets I consider to be
at the same level as those by WorldWorks Games.
Very nice models focusing on science fiction. Many models
can be optionally purchased as layered Photoshop files
Extensive range of great tile sets covering fantasy and
science fiction (terrain and starships).
Impressive Starship designs. Each PDF package has maps,
descriptions, OGL statistics and tiles for a starship.
Star Wars Miniatures
Has a number of free Star Wars related models as well as
tiles and game aids for other science fiction games.
Paper Models International
I originally started cardstock modeling back in my
university days and was surprised at what could be done with
quality models. Some of these would make nice additions
complements the model sets above, particularly with the
WorldWorks Games modern sets.[Note: Unfortunately PMI is now going out of business but still has some excellent models and a sale while supplies last.]
If one gets into designing or kitbashing cardstock models,
The Card Modeling FAQ is a valuable resource.
And some related links as a bonus for reading this far:
For interiors one might consider WorldWorks Games'
Shellendrak Manor or other interior sets.
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CAR-PGa Discussion Group Returns
CAR-PGa, the international network of researchers into all
aspects of role-playing games, has restored their long-
dormant online discussion group. The new address is: http://groups.google.com/group/car-pga
However, it is easier, if not quicker, to first search
and upon reaching it, search
archives from the old site on Yahoo is available as well.
This is one of the few discussion groups discussing all
face-to-face gaming, tabletop or LARP, without restrictions
to, or even emphasis on, one game system or publisher.
Indeed, it also covers curriculum and therapy as well as
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By Ripper X
Reprinted with permission from:
Advanced Gaming & Theory
The glory of being an adventurer is not without its
headaches. When one is comfortable and warm in one's
favorite chair, and pondering the possibilities of embarking
on a grand adventure and coming home rich, I dare say that
one is a fool.
A successful adventurer is measured not just by old age, but
of course, by his wealth as well. And I must say that wealth
is not an easy thing to deal with, but if you are intent on
following this fool's quest of yours, then I suppose I must
release some of our trade secrets.
When one slays a dragon, or explores an ancient city left
for dead thousands of years ago, yes there is much money to
be had, but like all things, it isn't that simple. One has
to think about the state of the world in which one lives. If
you go to the market, you pay the merchants with copper. You
pay your landlord with silver, you buy drinks, pay for
supplies, eat, and pay for services all with either silver
or copper, all the while wishing for gold, but the problem
is, once you've got gold, then what do you do with it?
Make Certain Coins Uncommon
Most inns, once handed a gold coin, often look at it and
then at you like you stole it! They don't have change for
that kind of cash. The problem with gold isn't the worst of
your trouble. I mean, think about it man! Many of the coins
an adventurer finds in his journeys are so old they aren't
worth anything but the weight of the metal itself.
Treasure is usually handled just as shakily and abstractly
as combat. Most players dread role-playing scenes in shops
because they aren't interested in the money aspect of the
game. As an adventure idea, why not try something that
explores the troubles and tribulations of finding a large
treasure? This probably works best as a one-shot deal, and
it can be fun just to figure out how this stuff would work
in your own world.
The first thing to consider is the coins in circulation at
the time, and which ones are most popular. Looking at
supplies lists quickly tells you what shops are capable of
handling what kind of cash. Weapons dealers are more capable
of handling large quantities of money, then, say a tavern.
In the standard game an adventurer can pay for drinks with a
gem worth 800gp and get the proper change back, but think
about it! How much money do you think a tavern owner has in
the tavern, and what kind of coin is typically paid? He
probably has lots of copper, some silver, and the odd gold
coin from large parties celebrating a victory. He simply
doesn't have the kind of cash to break a gem.
Let's examine the common coins to find their place in the
This is the most common coin, but it must bear the proper
seals. A coin from one realm won't work in another; it must
be traded in to the right place and exchanged for the proper
coins. This is the coin everybody has access too, and is
easiest to move. Everybody accepts copper and it is the
preferred method of barter for simple goods and services.
This coin is the backbone of society. The copper is broken
down to make change for this piece. Silvers work everywhere
and even foreign coins are generally accepted as silver
itself is worth more then copper. This is another coin of
the commoner that can be used to purchase equipment and
Now we are entering the coins of a different society, the
upper class! Gold is jealously guarded; the economic
foundation of the D&D world is not capitalism. If a poor man
tries to pay for something with a gold piece, the automatic
assumption is that he stole it.
This coin is more accepted in cities, but is extremely rare
in rural communities. Shopkeepers who sell expensive items
will gladly take it, but common services won't generally
have the cash to make change; especially if they deal mostly
with copper, like a tavern.
The gold pieces that an adventurer starts out with are
considered their life's savings, and probably aren't in the
form of gold at all, but a combination of silver and copper.
Gold is typically not gold at all, but gold written on
paper. It measures the worth of something big, like
Just because a merchant owns a ship worth 15,000gp doesn't
mean that he ever had that much gold, or that once he sells
it, he'll get that much gold for it. Typically he will trade
it for products worth that much gold, such as a nice house
or 15,000gp worth of horses and wagons. Gold is an abstract
measurement of wealth, while the coin itself is fairly rare.
This is a very rare coin, probably a metal that isn't used
to pay for anything anymore and bears seals that are
ancient. Everybody who isn't a collector or has the
education to realize what this is, is going to just assume
that it is counterfeit. It is a curiosity, and nothing more.
Electrum is worth more melted down than it is to the market.
Much like electrum, this is an even rarer coin used only by
kings and not for the general public. If one finds a large
horde of platinum, one is still broke because there just
isn't any way to move it; nobody except for wealthy dwarves
would touch it.
This probably is a dwarven coin in the first place, and they
won't look highly at humans who are using it, and might
demand to just have it returned because it was never theirs
to begin with. And making change for it? That is simply not
going to happen in even the largest of cities. A collector
might buy one or two pieces, but getting rid of an entire
chest of the stuff would be next to impossible.
Treasure Disrupts The Economy
Now that we've got an idea of what each coin is worth, and
who uses them, we have to look at the economy in general. We
are typically in a world where the rich stay rich and the
poor stay poor. If this changes then the entire system
The rich enforce their status with an iron fist. Most
adventurers are serfs, and first must buy their freedom;
this might not even be possible, especially if the lord in
question believes you to be a money machine. He might allow
you to adventure, but he is still going to demand his share,
and if he doesn't get what he thinks he is owed, then he
could take it out on the adventurer's family and loved ones.
One must also take into consideration about what would
happen if a large horde of cash were suddenly introduced
into the economy. It would be good at first, but the more
wealthy the common man becomes, the more the truly wealthy
will push them down by raising prices.
For example: Adventurers slay an ancient dragon. Much of the
treasure he horded would be coins that he slowly took away
from the economy for years; now suddenly all of this money
is back. The original boom would be massive! But once the
King finds out, suddenly his treasure has been devalued, and
it isn't worth as much as it would be if the dragon had been
left alive. Thus a dragon is good for the economy, and
adventurers powerful enough to slay him are bad.
To protect his own interests, the King needs to find a way
to take as much treasure for himself as he possibly can, and
discover a way to devalue the horde at the same time. This
can be as subtle as raising taxes, or as advanced as minting
all coins with a completely different seal. Either way, he
would find a way to suffer the people because if he goes
broke, then his kingdom collapses.
Treasure Is Heavy
Once a treasure is found, typically it just appears in an
adventurer's coin purse, regardless of size and weight. This
is highly illogical! It is a pain in the bottom to have to
deal with this aspect, but it is the stuff that a character
has to figure out when he isn't being roleplayed.
Treasure typically comes from ancient ruins or monster
hordes. The chests that are there are normally rotten and
worthless, bags are even worse off, and loose coins are even
more common. In order to get the treasure itself out, the
party had to bring the supplies to carry it out with. The
best is a combination of chests and bags, with a wagon to
carry it all.
This all takes place before the adventurers embark on their
quest. They have to estimate how much treasure they think
they can get out of the place, and plan for it accordingly.
For that, we need to know how much each coin weighs.
This is a huge problem. I am but a simple poor man, and I
have no idea of what a coin would weigh. I'm lazy too. I've
looked all over my books trying to find weight of coins, but
so far, nothing. In the interest of just settling the thing
once and for all, I'll say that 10gp = 1 pound.
If we stick to this method, a small chest could hold 400
coins and a large chest could hold 1,000 coins. Now we have
an additional problem: a full chest weights 125 pounds, and
getting it from point A to point B is a huge problem that
must be overcome before you can even get it on the wagon
The time it takes to move the treasure gives the vultures
more time to plan to take it away from you. God forbid you
are forced to leave the treasure trove, because once you
come back, much of the treasure will be looted or in the
process of being looted by folks who planned better than the
The DM is strongly encouraged to go over the encumbrance
rules, and get to understand them so they can be imposed
upon your adventurers with all of their hateful glory.
Let's just assume for a moment the adventurers were able to
somehow haul the bulk of that stuff out. The next problem is
turning it into something that the player can use, which
isn't always that simple.
The party will have to take their treasure to a big city,
which if we did our job of setting the game up properly,
should be a long ways away. The exchange office buys coins
from other realms and exchanges them for coins currently in
They don't do this for free; they'll charge 10-30%, and
since they are under the direct influence of the King, they
will be interested in where people got this much treasure.
The longer the party can keep it out of these people's
hands, the more headaches they will save themselves. Even
the exchange office has a set limit of how much money they
can handle. Being expected to handle thousands of gold coins
is a strain on any office, no matter how big.
Before we give our players a headache, we have to deal with
one ourselves. The abstract treasure is in our favor just as
much as it is for the players. We need to figure out exactly
what the treasure consists of, and just because it is listed
in gold pieces, doesn't mean that it is all gold pieces; it
is much easier to move wealth around with gold items.
Jewelry is a great way to carry it, as are objects created
from metals such as silver and gold. Art objects are a big
pain, but we need to define what these items are. The player
won't, and shouldn't have any idea of what this stuff is
worth until he can get the stuff appraised.
This also includes having a treasure counted, because adding
machines weren't common; this is a specialty and requires a
hireling. Even if a player has the appraising skill, he
still won't be an expert at it, and the treasure will have
to be examined by an expert to classify its exact value.
This must be done before a player can hope to sell the
Appraisers aren't always honest; this trade attracts many
swindlers and thieves. An appraiser can lie about the value
of an item. He can also slip things into his own pocket. An
appraiser is entitled to a percentage of the treasure. This
is usually between 5-10% because it is time consuming,
especially with large treasures, and he may need the help of
a sage, which will also cost money.
Adventurers will probably complain about this, but the
prettiest stone could be nothing but colored glass, a golden
statue could be carved wood leafed with gold foil, and an
ugly stone could be worth thousands of gold pieces once it
is cut and polished.
The appraiser expert can spot this stuff. Granted, it will
take some time, depending on the size of the hoard; anywhere
from two weeks to several months to go through everything
and classify it for the players.
He will also earn a daily rate for himself, because he will
have to dedicate himself to counting this stuff and finding
the right histories. We are looking at a very large chunk of
cash, but luckily the money doesn't have to be paid up front
and can come from the treasure itself.
The next stage of this game will be finding a buyer. This
can be challenging, particularly with weird items, such as
spell components. If it is in the form of expensive incense
then a church might buy it. They will try to get away with
you just donating it, which might not be a bad idea. Having
a church indebted to you can be a handy thing. Say an
adventurer needs raising from the dead; normally this would
cost him at least 1,000gp, but he can probably get it done
for free because he is on such friendly terms.
Other buyers are merchants. Haggling should be brisk and it
has to be an item they are interested in. A trader of
livestock would be less interested in a silver pendant worth
500gp then, say, a jeweler. The jeweler is going to try and
haggle down the price to something that is easy for him to
afford, and he may also be a swindler, because he himself
would be able to appraise the item.
The other kind of buyer is the rich collector. Great care
must be taken when dealing with the upper-class! One's
charisma score really comes into effect here because we
don't want to offend the buyer who can just as easily have
our heads legally as he can pay us what we want for the item
In dealing with the rich, haggling will be slow and careful.
The lord will typically ask how much you want for it, and
examine it. He could also be an expert appraiser, especially
if he is a collector of specialty items.
Naturally a collector will buy one or two items at most;
therefore, if you have many items, you'll have to contact
many collectors. Getting the word out that you have these
items requires another hireling, and an expert who knows who
buys what. This also lets thieves know what you have and
they'll be trying to get their share as well.
Fencing is probably the quickest way to get rid of a
product, but these guys are only going to give you a max of
50% of its worth, and depending on the size of the hoard, it
could be impossible to obtain the gold itself to actually
buy the item. Nobody has 12,000gp, or if they do, they won't
be willing to give it up for something that can be stolen
from them in a heartbeat, leaving them broke. Fences will
buy small items quickly, but probably won't be all that
interested in large items. However, if they know you have
it, they might send out a band of thieves to relieve you of
Finding the right buyer is more important than actually
finding the treasure to begin with, because if you can't
turn the treasure into wealth, then it really isn't worth
anything at all!
Lessons of the Game
This kind of play will reveal a lot about our games, and
also how we can use money more wisely. What does an
adventure need with 2,000gp? It's not like it is convenient
to carry around, and if he's forced to run away then he will
do so by leaving his wealth behind. There are no banks to
keep money, and wealth will be counted with property. Buying
a house or investing in a business can make all the
difference between a successful campaign and a weak one.
What can we gain from giving the money away? It might sound
stupid at first, but say we give a lord the spoils or a
treasure trove, for example. That lord is now indebted to us
and if he fails to grant us favors, then word will get out
that he is cheap and stingy with his money and he'll fall
out of favor. This will be bad for the lord's reputation,
and bad for the lord's title. Granted, a lord won't drop
whatever he is doing to help the adventurer, but he will
pull lots of strings that a typical adventurer wouldn't have
access too. Favors can be worth more then gold.
Titles are also something a character might be interested in
buying. This opens up a completely different aspect of the
game players may or may not want to get into. Wealth comes
with more responsibility, and if we keep this in mind then
we become better gamers for it.
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What's New at Johnn's Blog
Campaign Mastery is the official blog of the Roleplaying
Tips E-zine. It's a great way to get more GMing advice and
to chat with me and other readers about GMing. Here is a
quick summary of what's new.
- Top 9 Dungeon Master Screen Hacks
My list of the best dungeon master screen hacks.
- Learn From Your GMing Mistakes - Session Post-Mortem Tips
The goal of many is to level-up their game. That means one
part ongoing GMing improvements, one part helping players be
better, and one part tweaking the group itself.
Post mortems involve reflecting on past game sessions to
spot ways to improve your game, and are an awesome tool in
your GM toolbox.
- Ask The GMs: The right to be heard
How do you ensure that every player gets a fair share of the
attention when one of them has a dominant personality?
- Elevate Your Game - Tracking Airborne Minis
The third dimension of the battlemat has long been a
problem. How do you represent it with minis, other than by
holding them up with your hand and making airplane noises?
- A Different Perspective: Changing the dynamic with a
RPGs use rules, usually relating to dice rolls and
modifiers, to simulate the world around the PCs, resolve
character actions, and provide an interface between the game
mechanics and the simulated environment. But this is not the
only approach that can be used, and there are times when
alternatives should be considered by the GM.
* * *
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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books
In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have
written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your
games and to make GMing easier and fun:
How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most
popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well,
plus several generators and tables
Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not
only expand your game world but provide endless natural
encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.
Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to
crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for
any game system and genre. This book will make a difference
to your GMing.
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